By: Iftikhar A. Khan
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has conceded that no female staff had been appointed for any polling station set up for the by-election held recently for a seat of Balochistan Assembly.
Provincial Election Commissioner Sultan Bayadid told Dawn that there was no `women-only’ polling stations, but claimed that separate booths for women voters had been made in all the 67 polling stations set up for the by-election held on Monday in the Sherani-cum-Zhob (PB-18) constituency. But those booths, he added, were manned by the male staff as female staff could not be arranged in the newly formed district.
Mr Bayadid’s comments were sought on a report which said there were no women voters at almost all polling stations and unauthorised people were present inside polling stations. He said the turnout remained 19 per cent and 12,000 out of the total 68,000 registered voters exercised their right to vote. He said the turnout of female voters was negligible due to the social trend in the province, but was unable to give the exact number of women who cast their votes.
About the presence of security personnel inside the polling stations, he said 24 polling stations had been declared sensitive and that’s why the Frontier Corps personnel were present there. “We have received no complaints and even all the candidates were satisfied,” he said
The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) in its report had observed that no female election officials were seen at any polling station and termed it a worrying development. It said the ECP should have established women-only polling stations in the constituency to create a favourable environment for women voters.
Fafen’s report said the ECP did not set up female polling booths in about 75pc of the polling stations monitored by its observers, in violation of the commission’s own polling scheme. Considering that the area’s women were discouraged from participating in the electoral process by their communities, the ECP’s reluctance to establish female polling booths at the majority of observed polling stations reflected the administration’s waning commitment to resist such trends in the region.
It said the ECP had set up 67 polling stations – all mixed gender. The polling stations were supposed to include 151 polling booths – 82 male and 69 female. However, at 25 of the 33 polling stations monitored, female booths had not been set up.
The report asked the ECP to probe into the incidents of barring women from voting in the PB-18 by-election and attempts of proxy voting on behalf of women voters. “Even if re-polling is not held in the whole constituency, re-polling must be ordered in polling stations where women were barred from voting,” it said.